Erasmus and Luther: The Battle over Free Will (Hackett Classics) Info

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Reviews for Erasmus and Luther: The Battle over Free Will (Hackett Classics):

4

Jan 02, 2015

Erasmus and Luther: The Battle over Free Will edited by Clarence H. Miller, translated by Clarence H. Miller and Peter Macardle. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2012.

Summary: This work is a compilation of the argument between Erasmus and Luther over the place of free will and grace in salvation, excluding most of the supporting exegesis but giving the gist of the argument.

How free is the human will? This is a theological and philosophical discussion that has been ongoing for at least Erasmus and Luther: The Battle over Free Will edited by Clarence H. Miller, translated by Clarence H. Miller and Peter Macardle. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2012.

Summary: This work is a compilation of the argument between Erasmus and Luther over the place of free will and grace in salvation, excluding most of the supporting exegesis but giving the gist of the argument.

How free is the human will? This is a theological and philosophical discussion that has been ongoing for at least two millenia. In our present context the question arises in light of research findings in evolutionary biology and neuroscience. More narrowly, this has been a point of contention within Christian theology from the disputes between Augustine and the Pelagians (fourth century) to more present-day discussions between Calvinists and Arminians. The argument between Luther and Erasmus at the beginning of the Reformation comes a bit over midway in this history and helps us understand some of the theological fault lines between the churches of the Reformation and the Roman Catholic Church that are still under discussion to the present day.

The "battle" is really a disputation in a formal sense that was initiated somewhat reluctantly by Erasmus who was actually sympathetic to many of Luther's contentions for reform but felt that Luther's Augustinian embrace of sovereign grace alone with no place for human will in salvation to be extreme. His initial discourse with Luther was a somewhat moderated appeal that sought to thread a path between grace alone and some allowance for the place of human will assisted by grace. Luther's reply, which we know as The Bondage of the Will argues forcefully, and at times acerbically, that when it comes to our salvation "free" will is a non-existent entity. Erasmus responded with a two part reply, known under the title of The Shield-Bearer Defending in which he more forcefully defends the place of human will in salvation.

The arguments are lengthy, detailed and at points repetitious and thus the group I read this work with were glad for a compilation rather than the full versions of both works. In the introductory material, the editor outlines the works, showing in bold print the sections included in the compilation. This edition is well-annotated, providing background material for allusions and helpful connections back to opposing arguments when these are referred to.

As I mentioned, this debate helped delineate some of the fault lines between Catholic and Reformation churches:

The question of the perspicacity of scripture--how easy or difficult is it for the individual reader to understand scripture?

How important is the tradition of how the church has read scripture versus the priority of the individual reader, particularly Luther?

Assumptions about "fallen" human nature. Are we utterly incapable of doing anything to contribute to our salvation or is there some "spark" of goodness which may be assisted by grace?

Related to this, is our salvation to be attributed exclusively to the sovereign grace of God or is there some place for the human will in seeking and believing?

We concluded that the arguments did not resolve these questions for us. In our reading group were those leaning toward Luther and those toward Erasmus, although most of us were troubled on the one hand by Luther's exclusive emphasis on sovereign grace, and on the other by Erasmus's language of "meriting" grace and his implication that justification is a process, confusing justification and sanctification. We wondered if the word "free" might be a sticking point and a discussion of human agency might have been more helpful. We recognized that we are dealing with things that are either paradoxical (apparently contradictory) or antinomies (two contrary things that are both true). We saw the challenge of attempting to reconcile as abstractions ("free will" vs. "grace") realities lived out in the existential life of faith where we experience both our "chosenness" and our "choosing" under the grace of God.

Hence, if one is looking for a "pat" answer to this discussion, this work will either simply confirm your pre-understanding or not help. But if you wish to understand the discussion, listening to these two great figures will prove illuminating and perhaps help you think more deeply about some of the fundamental questions in Christian theology. ...more
2

Sep 21, 2016

Tyndale once says that he refrains from expounding a textual gloss "for tediousness": one wishes that both Luther and Erasmus might have learned a lesson from the man, not primarily in their scripture interpretation, but in their controversial style. Line by line answering of the other party gets to be pretty old pretty quickly, especially when one of the respondents is as prolix and sticks to the point as little as Martin Luther. This text skips whole sections, which are both important and Tyndale once says that he refrains from expounding a textual gloss "for tediousness": one wishes that both Luther and Erasmus might have learned a lesson from the man, not primarily in their scripture interpretation, but in their controversial style. Line by line answering of the other party gets to be pretty old pretty quickly, especially when one of the respondents is as prolix and sticks to the point as little as Martin Luther. This text skips whole sections, which are both important and enjoyable, of Erasmus's original Discussion, which is a defense of free will and then Luther's famous "Bondage of the Will," which is his response. It instead gives the full text of both Erasmus's "Shield Bearer" texts, which bear the shield to defend his Discussion. These are less interesting and, to my mind, don't show Erasmus at his best. He is kind of huffy and pouty that Luther wouldn't discuss matters in an academic fashion, and it doesn't add much (except tediousness) to the issue. If you can get the older "Library of Christian Classics" translation, that's a a more satisfying read. ...more
5

Apr 22, 2011

Update:
I re-read/skimmed this for my students, and the debates meant a lot more to me, this time around.

Luther's rhetoric, though still as entertaining as ever, had its tragic side, especially when looking at Erasmus' initial forray, which was perfectly reasonable, though wrong. I do strongly agree with what Luther says, especially in the light of the New Perspective on Paul; the arguments have not substantially changed. There are some truly beautiful parts in Luther's little polemic.

Review:
This Update:
I re-read/skimmed this for my students, and the debates meant a lot more to me, this time around.

Luther's rhetoric, though still as entertaining as ever, had its tragic side, especially when looking at Erasmus' initial forray, which was perfectly reasonable, though wrong. I do strongly agree with what Luther says, especially in the light of the New Perspective on Paul; the arguments have not substantially changed. There are some truly beautiful parts in Luther's little polemic.

Review:
This debate is one of the best in history and it took place between two distinct historical personalities: Desiderius Erasmus, Catholic satirist and Martin Luther, Protestant leader.

Both debaters have distinct styles: Erasmus is cool and pointed, Luther impassioned and enraged. Not only are they an enthralling debate to watch, they also state both sides of the 'free will/predestination' debate at their strongest points.

As a grim Calvinist, it is my duty to side with Luther. If only we had men more willing to break a few bones nowadays. ...more
5

Jun 06, 2011

Luther admitted he thought this was his best work and I am inclined to agree. In this response to Erasmus of Rotterdam he presents a compelling case for the exhaustive sovereignty of God over all of creation and particularly in electing and predestining those whom he saves, he also shows how this does not conflict with the idea that man is held responsible for his sin, addressing the same question Paul does in Romans 9, "How can [God] still blame us, if no one resists his will?" Luther's writing Luther admitted he thought this was his best work and I am inclined to agree. In this response to Erasmus of Rotterdam he presents a compelling case for the exhaustive sovereignty of God over all of creation and particularly in electing and predestining those whom he saves, he also shows how this does not conflict with the idea that man is held responsible for his sin, addressing the same question Paul does in Romans 9, "How can [God] still blame us, if no one resists his will?" Luther's writing is sharp and especially entertaining at points where he chides his opponent. It is well worth a thorough read. Also, I recommend getting this edition over the "Bondage of the Will" standalone and read Erasmus first since this is Luther's response to him and you can admire the slick and ascerbic wit of Erasmus to get a feeling for what kind of rhetorical opposition Luther was up against. ...more
3

Feb 12, 2015

A conveniently paired publication. I ship Team Erasmus real hard, so I would give his work a four and Luther's snotty rebuttal a two. Erasmus, working in a Catholic tradition despite his critiques of many church practices of his own day, produces a sincere attempt to synthesize a bible full of varying accounts of free will (or the absence thereof). My distaste for Luther's response stems less from the theology itself - though I confess to finding it rather knuckle-headed compared with the A conveniently paired publication. I ship Team Erasmus real hard, so I would give his work a four and Luther's snotty rebuttal a two. Erasmus, working in a Catholic tradition despite his critiques of many church practices of his own day, produces a sincere attempt to synthesize a bible full of varying accounts of free will (or the absence thereof). My distaste for Luther's response stems less from the theology itself - though I confess to finding it rather knuckle-headed compared with the historical approach of Erasmus - but because it is riddled with ad hominem attacks that make it incredibly frustrating to read. ...more
3

Dec 08, 2018

Luther's response after the first round seems disingenuous and maybe a tad bawdy, as one would write after a few beers, attempting to win an argument through force of argument. From what I recall of the exchange (having read the book some years ago), Luther simply ignores Erasmus' biblical passages quoted in question of some of Luther's doctrinal positions.
Always there is the search for the one basic bit that captures the heart of the exchange, and for this particular dialogue it is Erasmus' Luther's response after the first round seems disingenuous and maybe a tad bawdy, as one would write after a few beers, attempting to win an argument through force of argument. From what I recall of the exchange (having read the book some years ago), Luther simply ignores Erasmus' biblical passages quoted in question of some of Luther's doctrinal positions.
Always there is the search for the one basic bit that captures the heart of the exchange, and for this particular dialogue it is Erasmus' plea that discussions between learned men ought to remain between them and their peers rather than being allowed to be bled out by and into the public domain where it would only be used to cement further divisions and discord. ...more
4

Aug 24, 2016

Fanstastically interesting, and one of the most important controveries in church history, to say nothing of being personally impactful (that is, if you believe in an all powerful God, where does that belief leave your power of making decisions-- in simple terms, is there room for both you and God in a logically sound universe?). Even more, if possible, than the actual subject matter (assuming that most adults have thought through the issue a little bit in the past), the disputants themselves are Fanstastically interesting, and one of the most important controveries in church history, to say nothing of being personally impactful (that is, if you believe in an all powerful God, where does that belief leave your power of making decisions-- in simple terms, is there room for both you and God in a logically sound universe?). Even more, if possible, than the actual subject matter (assuming that most adults have thought through the issue a little bit in the past), the disputants themselves are interesting: one would have liked to be able to see both Luther and Erasmus in action, as it were. Erasmus takes a moderate, sensisble stance filled with gentleness and good humor, whereupon Luther starts doing the equivalent of smashing things with a stick. While Luther comes away having made the most logical sense, Erasmus stays within the bounds of common sense, and while neither is above making unfriendly personal remarks about the other, both seem ultimately concerned about the health of souls, the Christian church as a whole, and one another's salvation. It's a powerful, enjoyable read. ...more
0

Dec 27, 2012

This is a great edition to have the two essential texts on the question of free choice in one and the same volume with a good introduction. Even though Luther points out that he is no learned man in comparison to Erasmus it is obvious that both are well read and are making a huge amount of references to both classical and patristic literature and thinkers and then the Bible of course. It seems to me that in terms of biblical interpretation Luther might have the stronger case her, but I am not This is a great edition to have the two essential texts on the question of free choice in one and the same volume with a good introduction. Even though Luther points out that he is no learned man in comparison to Erasmus it is obvious that both are well read and are making a huge amount of references to both classical and patristic literature and thinkers and then the Bible of course. It seems to me that in terms of biblical interpretation Luther might have the stronger case her, but I am not sure about all the points he makes. I think Erasmus still has a point in that there seems to be free will assumed by the biblical authors. Luther does mention, what I think is Erasmus' strongest argument, that if no free will, or capacity to do otherwise, it is difficult to see how we can be responsible for our actions. This Luther postpones to the eschaton and very summarily. I would like to see him treating this a little more in depth to be really convinced of his argument. ...more
0

Mar 07, 2016

hink predestination is a horrible and cruel doctrine? Don't understand why the Reformation ripped Europe to shreds for a century and a half? Let two of the most compelling writers in Christian history (yes, even in translations) show you. In which theologies are extremely clearly laid out, reputations are asserted and defended, one party is endlessly graciously, and one party brings all the snark. This will make you fall in love with the Reformation, with rhetoric, and with primary sources.
3

Nov 10, 2016

Free will is definitely an interesting topic, but Luther's poor writing structure makes this a tough read to get through, and it's not his fault! This book feels slightly out of context since it is a collection of written refutes from two different authors from two different countries from two different times. However, if you're interested in interpretations of what the Bible has to say on free will, definitely read a few sections from this collection!
5

May 15, 2014

More than fantastic!

First read this at Milligan College in a 16th century Reformation class. Of the six students, I was the only one, along with the professor, in agreement with Luther. Great semester of conversations.

Read this again about ten years later with a friend. As enjoyable a reread, if not more so.

Reading Erasmus challenge first was not a waste, but a perfect setup. More than fantastic!

First read this at Milligan College in a 16th century Reformation class. Of the six students, I was the only one, along with the professor, in agreement with Luther. Great semester of conversations.

Read this again about ten years later with a friend. As enjoyable a reread, if not more so.

Reading Erasmus’ challenge first was not a waste, but a perfect setup. ...more
5

Jun 13, 2013

The works themselves are crucial to understanding theological debates in Western Christianity. The edition is well-done. I heartily applaud the choice to include Erasmus' later works, which are often left out the debate. There is some abridgment, which I normally dislike, but it was done judiciously.
4

May 14, 2012

Challenging but profitable book. Erasmus wants to suggest that there may be some small role for the human will, assisted by grace, in achieving salvation. Luther responds strongly, vehemently even, against this view. Read this book to better understand the heart of the Reformation, as Luther argues against Erasmus' view to exalt free grace and to make such grace available to all sinners.
4

May 14, 2010

Thoughtfully and well done translations of the differences between Luther and Erasmus on this point.

J. Robert Ewbank author "John Wesley, Natural Man, and the 'Isms'"

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